Monday, May 25, 2015

Thomas Jefferson, on settling questions about the Constitution

On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed. [emphasis mine]
This quotation of Thomas Jefferson was contained in a personal letter he wrote to William Johnson, June 12, 1823. In context, I understand it had to do with the Second Amendment. However I imagine that as a matter of principle this is how Jefferson would have every question on the Constitution settled ("On every question," he said).

It's a far cry from the view taken by judical activists regarding a "living Constitution."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review of Stephen Ambrose, Ike's Spies

Ambrose is an expert on Eisenhower, a fact which is quite apparent in Ike’s Spies, a heavily researched, fascinating book about the beginnings of the CIA. A very good read, the volume is a good representation of the quality of Ambrose’s writing and story-telling. Though the author is favorably disposed toward Eisenhower, he does not sugar-coat Ike’s miss-steps, nor those of his agents.

The book begins with Churchill informing Eisenhower of the ULTRA secret in 1942, and then moves into the gradual development of an Allied spy network in North Africa, whose purpose was both to keep an eye on the Germans and their troop strength and dispositions, and to enlist the allegiance of the French for the coming Allied invasion.

Ambrose carries the reader through TORCH, then the Italy campaign, then OVERLORD. After working his way through the rest of the European theater of the war, Ambrose unfolds the founding of what would become the CIA, and traces America’s spying, assassination plots, and efforts to overthrow foreign governments right through the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Two things I am taking away from having read this book are (1) the messiness of the spy business, generally, and (2) the fact that America has intruded, at times, into matters of other sovereign nations in ways that are hard to justify. Having admitted that, however, it’s all-to-easy for a civilian reader, fifty years removed, to pass judgment and play armchair quarterback of an era when a violent and repressive communism was sweeping the world, and the reader has neither the full data nor the crushing responsibility to act upon it. Ike’s Spies is an eye-opener into a world most of us will never have to deal with.